How to fly almost for free: everything about bonus miles
The miles accrued by airlines for frequent flights is a very nice bonus. When used properly, they can be reaped of benefits and can save you tons of money on flights. However, using them is not always easy. Resource Lifehacker decided to shed light on the secret of bonus miles from airlines.
What are bonus miles?
It may seem that to earn bonus miles you need to live on a plane. This is not entirely true. If flights are a regular practice for you, you can easily earn a certain amount of miles without much effort.
Bonus miles - also called frequent flyer miles, or points - are part of the loyalty programs offered by airlines and / or credit card issuers. As a rule, you collect a certain number of miles, depending on the distance of flights or spending on your credit card. These miles can then be used to purchase tickets.
It sounds easy, but in fact it's a bit more complicated. For a start, the term “mile” itself does not mean the miles that you can fly for your bonuses, but those that you have flown. That is, for a trip from Seattle to Miami, you will get 2 734 miles, but this does not mean that you will be presented with a second flight for free. Miles collected are more like loyalty points. For example, the Frontier bonus program gives the customer a free round-trip ticket for every 20 000 miles. This means that you have to fly 4 about Seattle to Miami about and again to get one flight. That is, miles work like any other bonus program: you get points for purchases, collect enough and get something for free.
Difference between credit card and airline bonuses
Bonus miles are credited in two ways: by subscribing to the service through the airline itself or by obtaining a credit card with the bonus miles program. Some credit cards work with all airlines, others only with selected ones. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. In any case, there is good news: you can use both in a different way at the same time.
Every airline has its own program for those who fly frequently, which is called a loyalty program. It is free and you earn miles just for flights with this airline. You can subscribe to such programs with three different airlines. Here are the largest ones:
By opening an account in each of them, you will receive a number that you need to use when purchasing subsequent flights. These services are very simple: you have miles for each trip, and, after collecting enough, you can exchange them for a free flight with this airline. They do not burn while you use the account.
After signing up for a loyalty program, you can also use miles for previous flights with this airline — usually for the last 3-12 months. Rummaging through old tickets is an ungrateful thing, but worth the points it received. In addition, this is a good start for your loyalty program. If you need help keeping track of all your points, this can be easily done with AwardWallet.
Credit card bonus miles work a little differently. There, as a rule, a certain number of points is awarded for each dollar spent. You can then exchange them for miles, but the “exchange rate” depends on the credit card. Cards can also be charged for annual maintenance fees, and bonus miles are awarded only when you close a debt. Since people use a credit card much more often than they fly, it is easier to collect miles with a card than through a airline loyalty program.
Others ways accumulate bonus miles
Credit cards and frequent flights are not the only way to get airline miles. This can be done with the help of shopping, dining in restaurants and in other ways. Here are some examples (some may even surprise you):
- You can earn points for special airline nutrition programs.
- Many airlines charge bonuses for using their programs as a portal on sites such as Target or Best Buy. There is a list of bonuses at this link.
- Banks often earn miles for opening new accounts. For example, Fidelity - for opening an investment account.
- Often, points are awarded for completing surveys on Emiles or eRewards sites.
Take the example of opening an investment account in Fidelity to get bonus miles. When you open an account you earn miles through United (Star Alliance). You enter your account information into United and you are transferred to your United MileagePlus account. These miles can be used for flights only with this airline. It's easy, but it's important to always look at where you can use bonus miles, otherwise they will be useless for you.
Accumulation of miles for any other program works in the same way. You simply enter your account number, and after the conditions are met, the miles will be credited to your account.
How to choose the right credit card for travel
Everyone must have an account to earn bonus miles from the airlines that you use most often - after all, they are free. If you fly a lot, then you should add to this and a credit card with miles accrued. The main thing is to choose the right one.
Look for a card that, first of all, fits your consumer needs. By this link to MileCards you can specify your average monthly costs, where you want to fly, and so on. The service will select cards that fit your parameters. But before you open any of them, find out exactly where it accumulates points. For example, if Virgin America practically does not fly through your local airport, then their bonus program is of no use to you.
As a rule, the best card with bonus miles is for accumulating points with those airlines that have a “hub” at the airport of your city or that fly to those cities where you often need. For example, your family lives in Colorado, and you live in Seattle. Then it is most profitable for you to take a card with bonuses on Frontier or Alaska Airlines, since they are most often used between these 2 states. By the way, some cards work with several airlines. So, if you are flying in different directions, perhaps you should choose from these.
If it is difficult to choose one card, take the one on which the most bonuses are credited. Often credit cards charge double the amount for certain purchases - for example, for lunch and dinner in a restaurant (and their payment by credit card). If you often eat out, this option can earn you more bonus miles.
Also note that you will not receive bonus points on these credit cards when booking through Expedia or Kayak. For crediting miles, you need to book a ticket through the airline itself in order to receive them for payment by card. This does not apply to miles from the airline itself - their bonus program works no matter where and how you buy a ticket for their flight.
How to cash out bonus miles
So, you already have a credit card with miles accrual and a subscription to the airline's loyalty program. You made several flights, spent money on a credit card and now you want to "cash" these points and get your ticket. How does this happen:
- Go to the website of the alliance, with which you will book the flight.
- Enter your bonus program number and look for a flight.
- The screen will show how many miles you need to book each proposed flight, as well as how much you need to pay.
- Book your ticket!
This is the technical side of things. There are other nuances. For example, airlines give a limited number of places for loyalty program participants, so your choice will not be as broad as if you were paying in cash. During periods of seasonal peaks (for example, during the Christmas holidays) you will also have a more limited number of flight options. Therefore, it is sometimes better to use the accumulated miles not to buy a ticket, but to get a better seat on the plane.
Even having received a ticket for bonus miles, you will have to pay taxes and fees with “real” money, so the flight will not be completely free. Fees depend on airline and flight. Some airlines also charge an extra amount for booking at the last minute, so it's worth using bonus miles only ahead of time.
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